Written by Jun Kit Man, Digital Media Manager
In a time characterised by rapid technological advancements, geopolitical shifts, and evolving societal needs, the demand for strategic thinking in organisations has never been more pressing. The landscape of challenges and opportunities, particularly in the public sector, necessitates a clear strategic vision to navigate. Yet, many organisations falter, missing golden opportunities or diving into pitfalls because they lack a well-defined strategic direction.
Enter Ann Hall, an expert in strategic thinking. With years of hands-on experience, especially within the public sector, she offers invaluable insights into the intricacies of strategic thinking. She strongly believes that vision, strategy, and tactics are closely related and emphasises their important roles in helping an organisation succeed.
"Vision is not just about crafting an aspirational statement. It's about understanding the 'why' behind every organisational initiative. A compelling vision provides direction, setting the tone for the strategy that bridges the present to the desired future."
Indeed, the need for a cohesive strategy is paramount. Expanding on this, she says, "Strategy answers the 'what' questions. It's the plan charted out to turn a vision into reality, considering constraints and leveraging opportunities. In the public sector, this is crucial. Every decision made, every project initiated, should be rooted in a strategy that aligns with the organisation's overarching vision."
She explains that having a strategy is important, but it needs to be realistic and doable. This is where practical steps come in. "Practical steps are about 'how' to do things. The vision and strategy tell us what direction to go in and why, while practical steps help with the daily tasks to meet the strategy's goals. It's also important to let teams choose the right practical steps because they understand the real situations better and know how to get things done," she says.
Tailoring Strategy in the Public Sector
The public sector faces its own set of tough challenges, and can really benefit from using this combination of vision, strategy, and practical steps. With few resources, growing demands, and the constant need to be open and responsible, thinking strategically isn't just a bonus; it's a necessity. Talking about this, Ann says, "Public sector organisations touch people's lives in big ways, like in healthcare, schools, or construction etc. Strategic thinking helps these organisations do more good things with what they have, while using their resources wisely."
Beyond advocating for strategic thinking, she has been instrumental in training organisations to cultivate this mindset. Recognising the need for a structured approach to strategic planning, she has crafted programme and initiatives aimed at fostering a culture of strategic thought.
The public sector is different because it's not about profit, but about helping people and improving their lives. Hence, strategic missteps can have far-reaching consequences. Recognising this, knowing this, Ann has decided to work hard to help public institutions plan better.
Drawing on her expertise, she has developed a comprehensive programme aimed at fostering strategic thinking. "It's more than just attending some talks or classes," she says. "It's about learning a new way of thinking”. The core principles of strategic thinking revolve around analysis, foresight, and adaptability."
Breaking it down further, she elaborates, "First, organisations need to really understand where they stand - what they're good at, what they need to improve, and the problems they're facing. Next, they need to be able to think ahead, guessing what might happen in the future and making plans for that. And lastly, they need to be flexible, changing their plans as things change around them."
But why does this matter so much for the public sector? Ann is clear on this: "The stakes are incredibly high. In the private sector, a strategic error might result in financial loss. In the public sector, it could mean essential services being compromised, or delay projects that people really need."
As public institutions globally grapple with challenges ranging from budgetary constraints to shifts in public opinion and policy, strategic thinking becomes their compass. "It's about prioritising, allocating resources smartly, and ensuring that the institution's efforts align with its core mission," Ann asserts.
Her training programme has begun to see traction, with several leaders from different public sector organisations acknowledging noticeable improvements in their strategic planning processes post-training. Feedback from participants frequently underscores newfound clarity in organisational direction and a more structured approach to decision-making.
As the landscape continues to evolve, one thing remains constant: the need for strategic thinking. And with thought leaders like Ann Hall championing the cause, the future looks promising for organisations willing to embrace this mindset. The public sector, with its unique challenges and immense responsibilities, stands to benefit immensely, ensuring that the services it provides are not only efficient but also impactful.
Overcoming Barriers to Strategic Planning
For many in the public sector, work often gets in the way of strategic thinking. Senior managers find themselves overwhelmed by tasks, leaving little room for holistic, long-term planning. Recognising this, Ann Hall's training methods come to the rescue.
When asked about her approach to tailoring courses for participants, Ann responded, "I gather information on individual objectives through questionnaires or meetings before the course. On the day of training, I solicit feedback to ensure it's relevant and tailored. Flexibility as a trainer is essential."
Ann's training not only offers strategies but also addresses common challenges that managers face. "Leaders often lack time and an environment conducive to strategic thinking. They are caught up in daily tasks without understanding or being trained in strategic thinking," she mentions.
However, Ann's course isn't merely a lecture on theoretical models. She employs a variety of tools to cater to different learning styles, mentioning, "I incorporate theories and models like the Ansoff matrix to address the needs of theorists, pragmatists, activists, and reflectors." Her holistic approach appears to resonate with participants, as evidenced by a case she shared: "I had a group who, after understanding and practicing strategic thinking, felt equipped with ideas to bring back to their departments. Many expressed interest in sharing the learned tools and models with their teams."
On the future of the training programme, Ann emphasises adaptability. "Training programmes should adapt to the needs of individuals. The days of churning out programmes to individuals have moved on. If you're doing bespoke training, you'd research that particular organisation, integrating findings into the training," she advised, hinting at the importance of customising each course to fit organizational needs.
She also touched on the continual evolution of training methodologies, mentioning that trainers need to be updated with the latest technology, theories, and models. Ann added, "We look at a variety of methods, not just a one-day training course. Looking to use things like action learning sets or leadership action groups to incorporate learning throughout the programme. Maybe even coaching and mentoring."
For those considering joining her course, Ann has a piece of advice: "Come with an open mind. You'll get an opportunity to share your organisational issues in a confidential setting. We don't just look at strategic thinking but also at creativity, curiosity, and conceptual thinking. It's a participative, thought-provoking, and fun learning environment. By the end, you'll have a good grasp of strategic thinking and access to tools that will assist you in the future."
In a time where strategic lapses can spell significant setbacks for public services, Ann’s comprehensive approach to training seems more vital than ever. Offering a blend of theory, practical insights, and tools, her courses promise not just knowledge but a transformation in thinking.